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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

The World We Are Fighting for

A year ago it would have been hard to imagine a comics magazine with a taste for futuristic political dystopia overshadowed by the actual Armageddon of daily headlines.

When World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For was released last September, news reports were an apocalyptic smorgasbord: west coast in flames, world pandemic death count nearing one million, yet more tear-gassed BLM protestors, and a president fanning his weekly scandals on Twitter. Four months later, and the U.S. covid death count is over 400,000, Congress was physically attacked by rioters, and the former president prepares for his second impeachment trial.

Cartoon science fiction and political parodies seem pleasantly quaint in comparison.

World War 3 Illustrated - Wikipedia

Of course, when World War 3 Illustrated took its name in 1980, the world was braced for an actual Armageddon as the U.S. political landscape lurched hard to the right, upending the Cold War with it. Comics authors and editors Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman found their archvillain in Ronald Reagan—a president who even Democrats might have embraced in November to avoid another stranger-than-science-fiction term of Donald Trump.

Shameless Feminists (World War 3): Bannerman, Isabella, Jones, Sabrina,  Migdal, Rebecca, Bietila, Susan Simensky: 9781849353694: Amazon.com: Books

As Reagan sinks into ancient history, World War 3 Illustrated has continued to evolve as a living political document expressing the struggles and aspirations of its leftist activist-artists. Like the two previous issues, #51 is a book-sized annual, compiling a dizzying array of work by nearly forty creators. After 2019’s Shameless Feminists and 2018’s Now Is the Time of Monsters, the editors (founders Kuper and Tobocman are joined by Ethan Heitner) envisioned something more uplifting: a tribute to “the humane socialist vision of Bernie Sanders,” who last fall (when the issue was planned) appeared to be on his way to claiming the Democratic nomination and a November face-off with “the fascist future of Donald Trump.”

WORLD WAR 3 ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINE RELEASE PARTY #49 - Printed Matter

That alternative timeline diverged with an even more unimaginable premise: the Biden-Harris ticket. But the distance between our actual political present and the one World War 3 Illustrated longs for makes The World We Are Fighting For that much more compelling. No one predicted the CV-19 pandemic or the international George Floyd protests or Donald Trump’s sixty voter fraud court cases, but those instabilities are also opportunities. “Another world ACTUALLY IS possible,” the editors argue, and, more importantly: “That world is up for grabs.”

The 220-page issue features several authors that previous readers should appreciate returning: Sue Coe, Eric Drooker, Ben Katchor, Kevin Pyle, and of course the editors themselves. Most names are new to me, in keeping with the editors’ efforts to find and showcase new talent. The comics vary widely in length, from the single-digit sequences of Elizabeth Haidle, Jackie Lima, Terry Tapp, to the double-digit narratives of Sandy Jimenez and, the longest, Tobocman’s own twenty-six page retrospective.

Justseeds | World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For

I especially admire the one-page artworks of Coe, Meredith Stern, Joes Sances, and Mohammed Sabaaneh—all of which evoke the expressionistic woodblock styles of past political movements, an effect further strengthened by the images’ white lines printed on the volume’s black pages. Single images also allow faster turn-around, so, for instance, Coe’s June-dated image of Trump watching police beat protesters as he stands with a raised Bible is a clear reference to the clearing of Lafayette Park before his St. John’s Episcopal Church photo-op.

Other comics acknowledge the unexpected shift in reality in literal post-scripts. After Sasha Hill and Annabelle Heckler tell the story of squatters eventually purchasing abandoned Brooklyn buildings and transforming them into thriving communities, they add a pair of pages to show the continuing collective efforts in the face of the pandemic and the disproportionate hardships of the spring lockdown.

Steve Brodner’s “The Greater Quiet” was long conceived well after the editors’ original vision.

World War 3 Illustrated #51 - Big Talent Tackles Bigger Issues as They  Explore 'The World We Are Fighting For' – Broken Frontier

Brodner offers a half dozen caricature portraits of “those lost in the pandemic,” including a Walmart employee, a nurse, an incarcerated woman, a grocery clerk, a geriatric psychiatrist, and a hospital manager. Mac McGill’s “The Virus” tackles the topic through five full-page Trump portraits that evolve from swirling comb-over to CV-19 microbe in a balance of representation and abstraction.

Though primarily focused inwardly on the U.S., the issue also gestures toward international connections. Argentina-born artist José Muñoz provides the watercolor cover depicting his memory of La Pampa providence. John Vasquez Mejias’ excerpt from “The Puerto Rican War” is a study in woodblock-style of the colonial history and fight for independence of the territory the U.S. claimed at the end of the 19th century. Susan Simensky Bietila’s “Water Protectors” documents the struggles of the Menominee and Ojibwe tribes in northern Michigan and southern Canada, and Nere Kapiteni and Rebecca Migdal set their Trump parody in Antarctica where Donald and Melania have been exiled on a floating island of ice because no nation will accept them.

The issue is also bookended with the colorful comics of Colleen Tighe and Peter Kuper, giving The World We Are Fighting For a fittingly vibrant entrance and exit. The eclecticism is difficult to summarize, as every few pages offer some new and boldly different artistic style and storytelling vision. Yet they all cohere in the political thrust of the magazine’s political mission and artistic call-to-arms. Although Bernie Sanders did not become the 46th president this month, the U.S. has so far avoided the Civil War that even the creators of World War Three Illustrated didn’t want to imagine.



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